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Flagler Moves to Protect Public’s Use Of Beaches Ahead of Law Granting Property Owners Restrictive Rights

| April 16, 2018

customary use of beaches

Whose sands? (© FlaglerLive)

Your free access to many beaches in Flagler County is not so free anymore. A new law that easily passed both of Florida’s legislative chambers and that Gov. Rick Scott signed in March bars local governments from unilaterally enacting ordinances that protect the public’s “customary” use of beaches in front of private property.

Starting July 1, governments that want to adopt such ordinances must go through a laborious process and essentially have a legal action involving every beachfront private property owner, proving to a judge that the public has customarily used every one of those parts of the beach for a long time.

Flagler County has no such ordinance. It wants to protect customary use but doesn’t want to go through obstacles that could be insurmountable. Fortunately for counties like Flagler, the new law leaves a window open until July 1 for them more simply to pass a customary-use ordinance that asserts the right and preserves the status quo. County Attorney Al Hadeed gave Flagler County Commissioners a brief seminar on just how to do that, though the commissioners themselves won’t have to do much. Hadeed’s office is drafting the new ordinance. It will be before commissioners in May, with two public hearings. Meanwhile, the county is asking residents who like their beaches to write emails to the county administration. The emails will be made part of the record showing that long customary use of beaches.

Without that new ordinance, beach-front property owners could theoretically put up fences or no-trespassing signs, something that has not happened in Flagler, and that the county doesn’t want to see happen. But the proposed ordinance isn’t designed only to preserve “customary use.” It will also help the county secure more state and federal funding for beach protection in the future, Hadeed said.

There’s little enthusiasm for the new law in Flagler government. It “muddies up the water on beach ownership,” Commission Chairman Greg Hansen said.  “It does some very bad things potentially and there’s a lot of counties out there it’s going to impact, that aren’t aware of it,” says County Administrator Craig Coffey. Nassau, Indian River, Collier and Pinellas counties, among others, are considering ordinances similar to Flagler’s before the July 1 deadline. St. Johns, Walton and Volusia Counties already had ordinances barring the fencing off of beach property.

Customarily, the public in Florida has always had the right to access any portion of the beach, including beach in front of private property, as long as the public used the so-called mean high-tide waterline. (That waterline is always in flux, the average being set on a moving 19-year average). Another way to put it is that the public could always use the “wet” portion of the sand in front of private property. The dry portion belongs to that private property owner. But in general, the public has used many more portions than the wet sands, and the customary arrangement has caused little to no trouble, at least in Flagler.

It’s been more of a problem in Walton County, whose broad beaches have led more property owners to claim them as exclusively their own. But instead of passing a bill specific to Walton, the Legislature passed a bill that applies across Florida, precipitating the current response by local governments.


 “This is an item that we feel as staff we need to act quickly on,” Coffey said at a workshop with the commission today, citing the July 1 deadline. “We need a consensus to bring you something to deliberate and act upon.” The commission gave that consensus.

Hadeed said one of the compelling factors behind the ordinance is the county’s ongoing beach-rebuilding effort, a $25 million project rebuilding 12 miles of dunes washed out by hurricanes Matthew and Irma. The dunes’ function is to protect the beach, ensure an economically viable economy that depends on the beach, and protect inland properties from flooding. Private property owners are benefiting, but at public expense. Public benefit was a common denominator, given the use of public dollars—but with the support of beachside residents. The implication is that in return, private property owners should embrace customary use of beachfront property sands.

Should property owners wall off their portion of beach, it’s doubtful the public would then embrace the spending of tax dollars and the involvement of county staff “to give somebody a private beach. I just don’t see it,” Hadeed said. With that absence of fences and no-trespassing signs, “we are able to preserve the rural character of our beach, we do not have an overly developed beach as may exist in other counties, and this was a choice that was intentionally made in Flagler County.”

Still, the ordinance will merely “preserve the status quo,” Hadeed said. “‘There’s not going to be any substantive change except we may have greater ability to have state and federal funds because now we have legal connection to those dunes.”

The administration will work with Flagler Beach, Beverly Beach and Marineland either to adopt the same county ordinance or to adopt one of their own. Coffey said he’ll also need to hire a consultant along the way as part of the preparation of the ordinance. “We can thank our legislature for this cost,” he said.  

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17 Responses for “Flagler Moves to Protect Public’s Use Of Beaches Ahead of Law Granting Property Owners Restrictive Rights”

  1. Ready says:

    So as to understand this completely if a private property owner on the ocean wants to keep people off of the beach in front of their home they can erect a fence on said beach, also is the fence going to run west to east up to said water line??? I would love to see them do this for the fact the “Turtle Patrol” will be on their a– and filing lawsuits against these property owners and causing a legal quagmire that will keep the courts and law firms in business forever!! And that my friends is how they insure lawyers big paydays!!

  2. r&r says:

    The property lot lines don’t go to the waters edge so how can the public be barred from using the beach which is paid for through their taxes. This effort smells like the Hammock’s money talking.

  3. Concerned Citizen says:

    That’s fine let the home owners gobble up beach property. Then they should be taxed on it and required to maintain it. That should include any dunes, walk overs sea walls or other conservation methods including dunes. You wanna own it you are stuck with the up keep.

    Free beach access is the lively hood of any beach town. Once that starts going away so do the tourists as well as the economy. Then we will sit back and watch home values fall.

    I wonder how a home owner can even claim ownership of beach, Are they parceled with the lot?

  4. Duncan says:

    Much to do about nothing….

    I agree with Coffey; “We can thank our legislature for this cost” (to hire consultants) to address this disgraceful legislation. What county is not going to pass legislation, if not already in place, to eliminate this ridiculous notion. Don’t blame the beach front property owners, this was just as shocking to us. This legislation was obvious designed to benefit resorts and hotels over the residence of the Florida. Keep in mind that Edwards, a Democrat, and Rick Roth, a Republican introduced this mess – vote them out.

  5. I'll be at the beach says:

    So if I go to the beach, and decide to go for a walk, and I end up in front of some persons house who starts yelling at me and threatening to call the cops, now I have to walk down to the water, walk into ankle deep water to be “in the ocean” and not “on the land” and continue with my day? Come on people. This is unconstitutional, but I’ll play that ankle deep “I’m in the ocean I’m not on the beach” angle if I have to. I’m sorry, in no way does this law stop me from enjoying the beach – I’m just sorry. I’ll be at the beach, just as everyone else has the right to as well, and I hope to see you there!

  6. Layla says:

    So, we are replenishing beaches for these people with public funds? Seems a little odd, doesn’t it?

  7. planetjanet says:

    Very grateful for Al Hadeed,and all Flagler co. commissioners and officials for being proactive on this frightening bill that threatens our beautiful coast!

  8. Outsider says:

    Better get this one done fast. I was broiling mad that they just spent 20 million dollars of tax money to build the beaches and a law passed allowing people to start throwing fences up on it. If that stands I’ll be doing a rain dance next hurricane season asking the storm gods to take the fences and the houses, too.

  9. Anonymous says:

    the TRUTH on this is that people who own “beach front” homes already do OWN the part of the beach that is being talked about here. Their lot lines do NOT go to the high water mark. BUT yes I agree that if this “law” is to stand then THEY and ONLY they should be required for ALL the cost of keeping up the beach front as it stands now.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    E-mail our county Gov. to keep our access to all our beaches like I just did.

  11. joseph Pulitzer says:

    Republicans once again screwing the little guy so they can help their wealthy friends.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      As we noted in the previous article on this subject, the bill was introduced by Katie Edwards-Walpole, a Democrat, and Rick Roth, a Republican. Edwards-Walpole is not running again.

  12. Wishful thinking says:

    The only 2 previous requirements to serve as an elected official were citizenship and residency. When did insanity and stupidity get added?

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Wishful I love your comment!

  14. Live Free or Die says:

    So your telling me, this law is challenging Nature. Try to stop a Major Hurricane …
    These idiots with there Million dollar Homes need to worry about the Wrath of God, and get of the privitation of any beach in the United States out of there mind.
    When this next Storm comes again this August 2018, A lot of us told you so. enjoy the view while it lasts.

  15. Rick Burner says:

    It would be a disaster for any private landowners to claim ownership of the beaches, I would be the first one to stand in front of any bulldozers that were using taxpayers money to renourish the beaches. Did these politicians and our governor think about the ramifications of shutting down our beaches for our private citizens?

    What will happen to our tourism industry when our beaches are blocked by fences it will evaporate into thin air and there goes out tax dollars. Fla. economy was built was on our beaches. If you don’t believe that just head to the beach on any day and ask the people that are on it where they are from!

    We need to put a stop to this foolish now and remember who signed this bill and vote them all out of office when elections roll aournd. We all have the power to stopped this but you have to stand up to these very foolish elected officials!

  16. Andrew says:

    @concernedcitizen people obviously do pay taxes and impact fees for whatever property is within their private property boundaries… Even if it looks like just more sand to us, if the county property appraiser has it within the private property boundaries it is taxed.

    Talked to a relative who is a real estate attorney, says this won’t keep the public from using the beach. The new law makes a judge decide when and where customary use covers private property that we all consider as “the public beach”. If we’ve always used it, it’s still public. But a judge decides, not the wackos on the board of county commissioners. Fences are still covered by local ordinances, so let’s make sure we have that.

    Makes sense to me… but sure wish the people we voted and pay to represent us in Tallahassee could make it clear to us! Might be time for a change…

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